Amidst global crisis, the NATO summit in Lisbon: EU and US make a deal for missile shield aimed at Iran

Frontlines Editorial

Recent imperialist meetings have seen many new developments.  The G20 meetings in Seoul, Korea brought limited success to the US’ plans for the world economy. Public disagreements broke out among the imperialist countries over issues of trade, monetary policy and government deficit spending.

The recently concluded NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal  took place in the shadow of the deepening imperialist economic crisis in the US and the European Union. The same week as the summit, the EU and International Monetary Fund had to give Ireland hundreds of billions of dollars to save its failing banks, and Portugal may be next.  Even while the economic ties among the US and EU imperialists are growing increasingly strained, the US and its European allies in NATO were able to agree on a common political and military strategy for defending and expanding their imperialist interests in the Middle  East and Central Asia.

The articles from The Guardian and Al-Jazeera that are posted below only describe what was decided at the NATO summit. Here is Frontlines’ analysis of the summit’s most important decisions. Our comments are more extensive than usual due to the importance of this subject.

Missile Shield

The NATO leaders announced a missile shield that will be deployed in stages beginning in 2011. This is the result of an intense US campaign to focus imperialist military coordination on isolating the Islamic Republic of Iran and forcing it to give up its nuclear program.. Throughout the upcoming decade of construction of a complex multi-billion dollar system against a handful of Iranian missiles, there  will be an ever-present  and hysterical media campaign claiming that the Islamic Republic is run by “unstable fanatics” who are a military threat to Europe and to Israel.  Building the shield against the alleged “threat” from Iran aims to justify tighter US/EU sanctions, and  to prepare political support for military action against Iran.


The summit also agreed on a timetable for “withdrawal” of NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014. This is aimed at defusing growing opposition to the war (eg. the growing number of body bags of US and NATO troops). The 2014 withdrawal date is an attempt to buy time to prevent a total Taliban victory.  The war plans of the US and NATO commanders– launching bigger offensives to clear Taliban forces out of southwest Afghanistan, and  making new attempts  to split the Taliban—are not new and have not prevented the Taliban from growing and spreading throughout the country.  Still, the US and NATO countries have no choice but to continue the war.  All of them see the victory of an anti-Western fundamentalist force like the Taliban as a threat to their imperialist interests in the Middle East and Central Asia.

Russia joins the summit

The most significant development of the summit was the agreement of Russia’s President Medvedev to cooperate with the US and NATO in several areas. Medvedev offered to provide increased military assistance to the Karzai government. The Russian government also wants to see the Taliban defeated in order to cut off a source of support for separatist Islamist forces in Chechnya and the former Soviet Central Asian republics.  Most importantly, Medvedev agreed to work with the US and NATO on the missile shield.  In the months before the summit, President Obama withdrew Bush’s plan to base missile interceptors in Poland, which were aimed at Russia.  Based on the US’ assurance that the new missile system would be directed solely at Iran, the Russian imperialists decided that it was in their interests to cooperate in the development of the shield.  Russia also agreed to support tighter sanctions against Iran, and withdrew from several of its previous agreements with Iran.

It remains to be seen how closely the Russian imperialists are willing to coordinate political and military strategy with the US and NATO. They have their own interests,  which includes maintaining control over their powerful military and nuclear forces as a counterweight to the US and NATO, and as an important means of  projecting Russian power in Europe and Central Asia.

Israel: Unofficial Member of NATO

The press releases from the summit  were silent on the question of Israel, whose high-tech military is an important part of NATO’s war planning.  However,  it is certain that Obama and his European counterparts agreed to continue  their unconditional support for the Zionist state as the main military force protecting  imperialist hegemony over the oil-rich Persian Gulf.  Obama also undoubtedly took the occasion to line up support from the European countries for the US-Israel-Palestinian Authority “peace plan,’ which is aimed at suppressing the Palestinian people’s struggle and liquidating their right to return to their homes in Palestine seized by Israel in 1948..

Our tasks

These developments should be closely monitored in order to understand how the US and NATO’s war preparations are developing. While they are currently focused on defeating or undermining support for reactionary fundamentalist forces in Afghanistan and Iran, the imperialists have not lost sight of the growing people’s struggles and revolutionary movements in the rest of the world. This situation places an important political challenge before consistent anti-imperialists, militant internationalists and radical democrats: To  not only understand the changes in the world, but to maintain their independence, their  initiative and their struggles for liberation. – Frontlines ed.]

US “defensive” missile interceptor system

  • The proposed system is protect Nato allies from a perceived growing threat from countries like IranThe Guardian UK, 19 November 2010

The “war on terror” and the Taliban will dominate Saturday morning in Lisbon, with Nato leaders joined by Hamid Karzai, government figures of all 50 countries engaged in the Afghan campaign, and Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief. Exit strategy and transition to Afghan ownership are the key topics. David Cameron said this week 2015 was a “clear deadline” for the withdrawal of UK troops.

The aim is to try to discern “a light at the end of the tunnel”, with leaders seeking to chart a transition plan being effected from next summer and aiming for a main evacuation of foreign forces by 2014-15. The idea is to name as soon as possible which of Afghanistan’s 39 provinces are ready to be handed over to the Afghan National Army and to civil governorship. There is a risk of humiliation in naming areas ripe for Afghan government and decisions later being reversed. Also, Nato remains short of 2,000 trainers for the Afghan army, hurting the exit strategy.

Barack Obama’s campaign to “reset” relations with Moscow may be set back by his mid-term election battering and its impact on arms control with the Russians. But President Dmitry Medvedev will also be in Lisbon for a Russia-Nato summit amid signs of a warming.

The US and Germans are keen to rope the Russians into revised missile shield plans in Europe. Eastern Europe, perennially wary of the Russians, has been given security assurances in return for being nicer to Moscow. The prospect of a US and Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan appears to be encouraging Moscow to see that US success could be in Russia’s interest. The Russians are pledging more help on allied transit in and out of Afghanistan, co-operation on countering the heroin trade, and on training. There could be a short-term boost to Russia-west relations. Longer-term problems remain.

What is the purpose of the proposed missile defence system?

To protect Nato allies and countries in the eastern Mediterranean from a perceived growing threat, notably long-range Shahab-3 and Qiam-1 weapons, which have a range of some 2,500 miles, being developed by Iran (though Iran will not be singled out, see below).

Why now?

The US has persuaded most of its Nato allies the time has come for a “protective umbrella”. Obama abandoned Bush’s plan to base 10 land-based interceptors in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic. Russia objected.

Have all parties signed up to it?

Yes, in principle. Turkey’s objections have been allayed by lack of specific reference to its neighbour, Iran. Russia privately agrees the need for some kind of shield. Its opposition was based in part on Nato failure to consult it. Israel, and the Gulf states, have their own anti-missile systems.

How will it work?

In stages. From next year US will deploy Aegis warships with interceptors in the eastern Med, supported by mobile radar units and run from a control centre in Ramstein, Germany. By 2015, there will be a land-based Aegis anti-missile system in Poland or Romania (or both). Third phase, due in 2018, would bring unmanned drones. By 2020, the idea is to have longer range missiles in place against a threat of intercontinental ballistic missiles which would be monitored by powerful large early radar warning systems, such as that in Fylingdales in North Yorkshire. The US satellite ground station at Menwith Hill, also in North Yorkshire, would also have a key role.


Al Jazeera, November 21, 2010

Alliance Agrees to Expand Europe-Based Defense System, but Bows to Turkish Concerns over Naming Iran as a Threat

Nato leaders have approved plans to expand a European missile defence system that would protect all of the military alliance’s member nations including the US.

Barack Obama, the US president, announced the agreement on Friday at the end of the first day of a summit of leaders from the 28-member grouping in Lisbon, the Portuguese capital. The system would add security to the US’s own system based in North America.

“For the first time, we’ve agreed to develop a missile defence capability that is strong enough to cover all Nato European territory and populations as well as the United States,” Obama said.  He said that the shield “offers a role for all of our allies, it responds to the threats of our times. It shows our determination to protect our citizens from the threat of ballistic missiles”. “An attack on one Nato member is an attack on all,” he said.

However, officials were careful not to suggest where the ballistic missile threat could come from after Nato-member Turkey raised objections to a system specifically designed to stop attacks from Iran.

Turkey’s concerns

“We are categorically opposed to have a country named [as a threat] and our request appears to have been accepted,” Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, told reporters before leaving Ankara, the Turkish capital, to attend the summit.

“Turkey cannot join a project that is aimed at a specific country,” he said, stressing that Nato was a defensive alliance aimed at defending its members against any ballistic threat and is not an organisation designed “to intimidate and threaten”.  “The project must cover all [Nato] members without exception … It will not be aimed at Iran, we said it,” he said.

Diplomats at the summit said there had been intense debate in the run-up to the summit about whether Iran should be targeted as a specific threat in the public document they adopt.

The US had asked Turkey, a Nato-member, to host some of the radar defences and to approve the proposal.

Turkey is mindful of its delicate position with neighbouring Iran and said it would refuse to sign a Nato document that names Iran as the threat in the final declaration.

“Turkey does not want to be the military front for Nato, it wants to be the diplomatic face of Nato in the Arab and Muslim world,” Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, said.

“But any state that would dare launch a missile against Europe would be obliterated the day after – so who would be so suicidal as to launch a missile against Europe?”

Nato compromise

Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Istanbul, said: “The compromise that Nato seems to have arrived at, even ahead of this meeting, is that no countries will be cited and the stress will be on this being a defensive system and not an offensive one.

“[Turkey has] worked extremely hard in this region to deal with the perception of threat among its neighbours, to de-escalate the sense of jeopardy and danger and defensiveness and offensiveness … that has caused so many problems.”

McNaught said that Turkey also wanted to make sure that the system would in no way be used to protect Israel from attack.

“It [Turkey] wants to be clear that this system is for the defence of territories from Turkey’s eastern border, westward. It wants to be sure this is not a ‘proxy’ defence system for Israel.” she said.  “It does not want any of the intelligence gathered through this system to be shared with Israel.”

‘Urgent need’

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato’s secretary general, said that there was an urgent need for the new missile defence system. “The fact is that more than 30 countries in the world have or are acquiring missile technologies, some of them can even hit targets in the Euro-Atlantic area. And we intend to build a missile defence system to defend against any of these threats.”  The expanded system is expected to cost $273 million over the next 10 years, Rasmussen said.

Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, who will attend the summit on Saturday has previously fought against the missile shield, saying it was a threat to his country’s own nuclear deterrence.

But Nato on Friday decided to invite Russia to join the defence shield, extending its protection across Russian territory.

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